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In photography, there is a thing called a limb chop. And just like it sounds, it’s bad.
A limb chop happens when a part of your subject’s body is cropped and excluded from the frame. Compositionally, it is considered to be a poor choice.
This is because we want to see all of those little fingers and toes! And most of the time, excluding these things in the photo looks like a haphazard accident. Of course, that is not how we want our photos to look!
Then there are times when we could argue that this kind of composition is acceptable. But what makes a good limb chop versus a bad limb chop? As with most things in art, this is subjective. Let’s explore tips and guidelines to keep in mind when considering how you compose your photographs.
While my little ballerina is adorable in her dance class, excluding her toes here makes for a less-than-pleasing composition.
By taking more time to compose the picture with intention, I avoid limb chopping (and we get the cute detail of her little slippers!).
Why are chops against the rules?
So you get that you aren’t supposed to exclude parts of your subject from the photo. But why does it matter if a hand or toe is missing?
There are several reasons. Firstly, limb chops can leave your viewer feeling uncomfortable (even if it is just subconsciously). Having a part of the body you know exists suddenly go missing is a strange experience, even in a photo!
Furthermore, cropping a limb that extends out of the frame can distract the viewer. We like to follow lines in photos and when there is a line of an arm or leg leading out of the frame, we tend to move away from the subject and onto the next thing. And we want our viewers to stay and ponder our photos!
Finally, cropping can downplay the importance of a person or object within the frame. By cropping at limbs in an uncomfortable way, it sends the message that perhaps the subject doesn’t require all of the viewers attention.This is particularly problematic when that person or object is your main subject!
That golden sunlight and her expression are perfect...but excluding her elbow from the frame is less-than-ideal.
A simple step back allows me to compose the frame with some space around my subject, avoiding the limb chop and giving me room to recompose if necessary.
How to avoid chops
It’s always best to capture as much correctly in camera as possible. While exposure and white balance can be easily adjusted in processing, if you’ve chopped off a body part in camera, there isn’t much you can do to add it back!
As you’re shooting, take the time to scan the edges of the frame and see if anything important is too close to being cropped out. It’s so much easier to correct the errors before they happen.
Another method (which I almost always employ) is to shooting your frames just a bit wider than your envisioned composition. This ensures that there is plenty of space to keep all limbs intact and allows you to crop closer later as desired.
Avoid cropping at the red lines; cropping with intention at the green lines is fine!
Where to crop & where to avoid cropping
As much as we wish that we could avoid uncomfortable crops all the time, the truth is that not all chops can be avoided. If you are in a tight space working with a longer focal length or if you have a lot of people in the frame, cropping out parts of your subjects may be necessary.
So what do you do when a chop is unavoidable? You do your best to chop with intention! Try chopping on longer bones, such as the thigh, shin, upper arm, or forearm. Avoid chopping directly on joints.
You can chop the head. However, you need to avoid chopping too much (where’d that face go?!) or too little (did she mean to do that?!). In the case of a crop on the head, be sure to include the ears, eyebrows, and chin, but steer clear of chopping so little that it looks like a mistake.
You will also want to avoid chopping a person at the widest part of the body. This gives the impression that the body remains that width beyond the chop, which is less than flattering.
Areas to watch out for would be the chest area on women as well as the hip and bottom region on everyone. The one exception to this rule is maternity portraits. In maternity portraits, it is acceptable to chop on the bump.
Another common mistake to avoid is cropping out auxiliary subjects. If a child is playing with a toy, the toy is as much of a subject in the image as the child. Therefore you will want to take extra care to keep all of the toy in the frame.
As you shoot, identify the primary and secondary subjects. Then assess which elements can be chopped, which cannot, and how to crop as best as possible when chopping is unavoidable.
Experiment with dramatic chops. When a chop particularly drastic, it can translate as more obviously intentional.
Take a step back or stand on your tiptoes to keep limbs in the frame. Sometimes just a little shift in your position can make a big difference in the effectiveness of your composition.
Chopping off a chin? Probably not okay...
Cropping out the top of her head? It works here!
When are chops okay?
We all slice little bits off in our photos from time to time…mistakes happen! It’s like when you trip over your own feet and then pop up and proclaim, “I meant to do that!!” When you accidentally slice off an elbow or the bottom of a foot, crop in even more and proclaim, “I meant to do that!”
However, there will be other times when you might actually want to crop in close. In these circumstances, you should do so in a way that leaves no question as to whether or not it was intentional. Whether you chop in camera or crop in later, make the chops significant enough that the audience cannot assume the chop was a mistake.
While there are guidelines about where, when, and why an image can be chopped, there are always exceptions. Rules are made for breaking, right?! Knowing your intended audience is a major factor in determining if a chop is acceptable or not.
If the images are for personal use, the only rules are those you set for yourself. This means that you are free to love an image in spite of a chop error or crop off an ear just because you can.
I love this close-up shot of the girls in the grass!
However, a wider shot might be better if my audience is someone other than me...what do you think?
When the intended audience is outside of your personal circle, try to stick to acceptable chop areas. Avoid chopping ears and chins and chop on long bones when possible.
Work on taking a step back. This can make all the difference in giving the subjects plenty of room in the frame, avoiding chops on three-quarter shots and full-body shots. When it comes to close up, snuggly, family shots, some chops are inevitable. Try to be mindful of the rules so you can make the best choice possible for your composition.
When curating a portfolio or submitting images for a contest, be mindful of any chops that are considered “incorrect” according to general guidelines. A small error in cropping can make all the difference in how a judge perceives your work.
But for me, it all comes back to intention. Will your audience see the chop as a mistake or an intentional choice? Is it clear in the image that chopping was your intention? Does the chop improve the image? Or would the image be improved without the chop?
Sometimes chops just happen. And that’s okay! These photos, though maybe not portfolio-worthy, might still be your personal favorites.
The important thing is to work with intention. Strive to compose your frame thoughtfully. And to capture the story in front of your camera in a way that speaks as clearly as possible to your audience.
If your family is anything like mine, then you may just have a few fur babies running around your home. We are all about our pets and don’t mind the little mess…and sometimes big mess…that comes with being the owners of several animals.
As a photographer and my designated family’s storyteller, it’s important for me to capture our life. A big part of our lives involves our fur babies.
However, it’s not always easy to include animals in the frame. And when taking good light and composition into consideration, it gets exponentially more difficult.
Over the years of including my own pets in my family photos, I have learned some tricks that make things a little easier. With these tips you can minimize the challenges so many of us face when trying to photograph our beloved pets.
Find the light
I tend to gravitate towards lifestyle photography more than documentary. That often means I’m in search of good light in which to photograph my family and pets rather than waiting for moments to unfold where they may.
About ninety percent of the time, my dog and cats are not in good light. That means I need to find a way to get them there!
For the most part, that’s an easy feat for my 150 lb. Saint Bernard, Juniper, who loves to sleep and cuddle my children. Anywhere we go, she goes. Juni is naturally calm and easy going so I don’t often have to worry about her running out of my frame, especially indoors. She doesn’t have the space for that inside anyway (outside it’s a bit of a different story…and I’ll touch on that soon).
When I’m photographing my pets, I pay attention to how the light is falling on them just like I do with my children. Are they facing away from the light? Is something blocking the light from falling on them? If I notice less-than-desirable light, I find a way to correct it.
For example, let’s say my dog is facing away from the light source or window. One way of getting her to look toward it is to make noise near the window. It could be something as simple as me snapping my fingers or tapping on the window with my hand. Then I use my other hand to shoot!
Be sure to have proper exposure
Pets, just like people, come in all different shapes, color and sizes. My Juni is a mix of different colors from black to white. We also have a cat who is all black and another cat who is a mix of white and gray.
This means that once I’ve found good light in which to photograph my pets, I need to make sure that I’m setting my exposure carefully. I don’t want clipped blacks on the darker parts of my furry friends nor do I want to blow the highlights on the lighter parts.
The darker the color, the more it absorbs the light. The lighter the color, the more it reflects the light. If you are questioning your exposure, check your histogram in camera. If you see that your shadows are climbing the left wall or your highlights are climbing the right wall, you need to shift your exposure.
This lens is perfect for those moments when you want to be close to the action or get a lot of the scene in the frame. It is quick to focus (which is good for fast-moving pets!) and has a wide aperture to still let you get that subject isolation we all love.
If gorgeous bokeh (background blur) is what you are looking for, this lens is the one you want! It let’s you take a step back without being too far away from the kids and pets and creates the most gorgeous blur to make for dreamy scenes.
Your furry friends deserve a reward! Treats are a great way to get your pets right where you want them for a picture.
Use a little bribery
However, my preferred aperture choice does change when I include pets within my frame. The more subjects I’m photographing, the narrower my aperture settings. This allows me to have a larger depth of field, ensuring that I get everyone in focus.
Normally my aperture is anywhere from f/1.6 to f/2. However, when I am also photographing my pets I will close down to around f/2.5. This widens my focal plane and gives me a little more wiggle room in case my pets move on me (which they often do!).
I’m not above bribery, especially when it involves capturing my pets in the frame. An easy way to place them where I want them is by offering treats, especially with my cats who tend to be a little harder to “pose.”
I just place the treat where I want them to be within my frame. Again I’m paying attention to the light and if they are facing away from it I try and move them so they are in an ideal position. If the treat is showing in the final shot, I simply remove it with some quick cloning in post processing.
Hold them close
photo by Melissa Haugen
Is there anything sweeter than snuggling your furry friends? I don’t think so! And I love capturing that sweetness in photographs.
While my children are not quite able to hold our 150lb Saint Bernard, they are able to hold our cats. This is another great way to capture pets within the frame. It makes it easier to keep everyone where I want them for the photo and to position them in good light.
Everyone loves these cuddle sessions and I love capturing the connections between my kids and their beloved pets.
Capture candid moments
Candid moments have my heart and it’s often the easiest way for me to capture my children and pets together in the frame. This is especially true outside as the light tends to be more evenly distributed than it is indoors.
There’s no planning or posing in these shots. At most there is a bit of gentle direction.
Simple directions such as asking my son to throw a ball for Juni or look at her as we walk down our driveway work beautifully here. It puts my subjects where I want them but opens up the opportunity to let natural interactions unfold.
Even better, these moments capture my family dynamic..
When my first child was born, I got myself a fancy new DSLR camera. I knew that I wanted as many photos of him as possible and that those photos should be beautiful.
In his early years, my camera was aimed at him nonstop! I worked hard to capture him playing and doing all the sweet things that I wanted to remember.
After a while though, I realized something was missing: ME.
Where was I? I surely existed through the diaper changes, the cuddles, the giggles and all those goofy faces we made together. But I was nowhere to be found in the tangible memories that I worked so hard to create. Even in my cell phone I would find ways to hide in the photos behind my son.
And I found that as time went by, it was quite difficult to remember all the details of being a mother.
Yes, we can all list a million reasons why we don’t want to be in photos. But just like we work so hard to document our kids, we should work to document ourselves with our children. Because mama, you are a big part of their childhood!
That’s why today I am sharing simple ways you can get in the picture with your kids. With these tips, you can take out the stress of self portraits and create beautiful memories with your family.
Have the right gear
Sure, you can just hold your cell phone at arm’s length and get in the picture with your kids. But when you want to create more intentional self portraits, having the right gear can make all the difference.
A tripod really helps to keep your camera be stable, avoiding any shake. as you release the shutter. A flat surface works in a pinch, but a tripod will likely be safer and easier to maneuver.
A remote is incredibly helpful when taking self portraits as well. Instead of hitting the shutter button on-camera and running back and forth to beat the timer, you can simply hold the remote in your hand and snap away while away from the camera.
A wireless remote allows you to control your camera’s shutter release while you are away from the camera, meaning that you don’t have to rush back and forth to the camera between shots. Even better, this is a way to get the kids involved in the picture-taking process!
It’s good to compose your self portraits with a little space around the edges so that you can crop in later. This 35mm lens allows you to shoot at a wide angle without too much distortion, making it ideal for self portraits.
Some camera bodies even come with apps that work through wifi or bluetooth connections. These allow you to use your phone to set focus and exposure remotely.
Kids love to play with and press the shutter on remotes. And you should let them! Allowing the process to be fun and playful will make the whole experience far less stressful. My 18-month-old daughter loves pressing buttons and even knows to look at the camera as she plays with the remote!
Get your settings right
There are few things worse than working hard to set-up a self portrait with your kids, having a super sweet moment that you know looks adorable, and then finding that it is underexposed or out of focus. Argh!
So before you start snapping away, use these guidelines to ensure that your settings will be just right:
Keep your shutter speed nice and fast. I don’t go below 1/250 because when I am in the frame with my toddler, you can bet she’s going to move!
While you might be able to shoot wide open when you are behind the camera, it is always best to close down a bit when shooting self portraits with kids. There is a good chance that you and your children will move when in front of the camera. Having a larger depth of field ensures that you will still be in focus even if you aren’t in the same exact spot you were in when you started shooting.
My widest f-stop when shooting self portraits is f/4. I love shooting wide open but for self portraits, it’s more important to have us captured clearly. You can’t fix a blurry image later in post!
Be mindful of your composition and background
Once you got your settings right, you want to make sure you have a clean background. There are times when clutter in the background can tell a story (especially the clutter of kids!). However, unintentional elements in the background can be really distracting and take away the focus from the subject: you and your kids.
Set-up your self portrait in a place where the background works to keep you and your kids as the center of attention. A blank wall is perfect, or you can pose close to a window and let the background fade to darkness (courtesy of the Inverse Square Law).
When you have your background just as you want it, then you can position yourselves in the frame to create a strong composition. I recommend shooting a bit wider than you normally would. This allows you to crop in post processing to get the composition just as you want it without fear of losing any important details at the edges of the frame.
Capture the emotion
Being a mother is full of emotion. While formal portraits are beautiful, I like to focus on connections.
Whether its a self portrait with one kid or all of your kids, get them as close to you as possible. Hugs, cuddles, tickle fights, silly jokes to get all of them laughing, all of them work great for establishing connection.
Another way to really capture connection is to share eye contact with your kids. It is our instinct to look at the camera for a photo, but shared gazes show that you are so wrapped-up in each other that the camera doesn’t even matter.
Remember, connection is all about making the viewer FEEL something from your storytelling. Identify your audience and then figure out how to best speak to them.
Document the daily grind
It’s nice to get dressed beautifully, put some makeup on and turn the camera toward yourself when you look your best. But that’s not always possible! And I think that there is something beautiful about capturing the reality of the everyday.
Keep a journal the things that fill your routines with the kids. Packing their lunches, combing hair, cleaning and organizing. These things may seem like mundane tasks but they are the kinds of things that you won’t be doing in a few years. Identify these parts of your day and then document them.
I would urge you to consider doing a “day in the life” shooting project. Set up your camera in a central spot and shoot in a continuous mode. Capture the day as it unfolds from this one perspective and marvel at how much goes on in a single day with you and your kids!
I promise that when you look back at them years from now, when the kids are all grown up, these are the pictures that will warm your heart and remind you that time really is so precious!
Once you get comfortable with the idea of being in the photos, feel free to get a little creative! Try changing your shooting angle for a new point of view. Experiment with different lenses and focal lengths. Use objects around the house to shoot through to change-up your composition and add textures. Work with slow shutter speeds to get the blur of your kids running around while you stand in one spot.
Allowing yourself to explore self portraiture with a bit of creativity can make the discomfort of being in front of the camera melt away. Instead, you are focused on mastering a technique while still capturing the moments that matter with your kids.
Have you ever wondered how your favorite photographers stay inspired?
Do you wish that you could have access to their unending ideas and creativity?
Well guess what? We know the secret: COMMUNITY!
Over at Clickin Moms, we are always thinking of new contests, games, and exercises to strengthen our photographic skills while having fun and making friends. One of our favorite traditions is the monthly forum contest. We announce a theme and the Clickin Moms members share all of the ways that they were inspired to capture it.
In April, the Clickin Moms community worked to create images for the theme of “Kids.” These photographs capture the carefree, the joyful, and the adorable…truly everything that it means to be a kid.
Today we are sharing some of our very favorites for you to enjoy here. We know that you are going to be just as inspired as we are by the amazing artists of the Clickin Moms community. We are thrilled to congratulate Jenna Sefkow for her winning shot (above) that has earned her a live Breakout session from Click Photo School!
You can win, too! Enter this month’s forum photo contest with your take on the theme “MOTHERHOOD” for a chance to be featured here on the Clickin Moms Blog and win a free live Breakout session!
Photography is one of the most enjoyable forms of art and there is no shortage of reasons why. From traditional portrait work to completely abstract, the possibilities of how and what we shoot are endless.
Regardless of the subject matter you prefer, all of us begin at a similar place. We have to learn from the ground up. The photography journey is full of experimentation. Growth is dependent upon testing out the waters and taking risks.
Trial and error are requirements to grow in this art and editing is no exception. However, there are some common editing mistakes that you can avoid! Understanding these no-no’s is the first step to correcting them and then moving on to explore a more cultivated creative process.
In this photo submitted by Megan Arndt, the white balance is so warm that the boys' skin seems almost orange. As she has grown as a photographer, skin tones and white balance are key in helping her create beautiful photographs.
In this photo from Meg Loeks, the whites are white and the boys' skin tones are accurate and pleasing.
Color balance in digital photography is simply the correct rendering of colors. With correct color balance, grey is neutral, white is white, black is black, and so on throughout the rainbow.
When a photo’s color balance is off in a photo, our brains are trained to correct it. This how we know that the grass is green (even if there is too much magenta in the photo), the sky is blue (even if the photo is too warm), and a red shirt is in fact red (even when there is an overabundance of cyan in the photo).
However, as photographers we want to retrain our brains to see the color that is actually present. Because when you see a photo with correct color next to one with incorrect color, even our brains can’t fix that mess!
Learning to truly see color in photos as we edit is a honed skill. But we can practice by getting color balance right by the numbers! Practicing achieving correct color by perfecting the RGB numbers (the balance of Reds, Greens, and Blues) will allow you to gradually train your eye.
Pro tip: calibrate your monitor. Often our screens are not properly calibrated and this can mean what we see on screen will not look like what we seen when our images are printed.
Eventually, you will be able to see correct color straight away and will only need to check your numbers occasionally. This will make for more pleasing skin tones and more realistic representations of any scene you want to capture.
In this photo by Heather Lazark, this adorable baby's eyes are slightly over sharpened, making them look unrealistic. Now that she is an expert photo editor, Heather knows that less is more.
In this photograph by Kellie Bieser, the eyes are the center of attention with good focus and minimal sharpening. They still look natural while drawing the viewer's attention.
Too much sharpening is a classic newbie error. When used correctly, the sharpen tool can be incredibly powerful. It makes images POP! and enhances them with a more three-dimensional feel.
But here, the saying, “Too much of a good thing” most definitely applies. When a newer photographer gets a little too excited about sharpening, we start to see images that look “crunchy” and subjects that look almost alien. And that’s not good!
Over-sharpening can happen to an entire image, but oftentimes photographers will focus on their subject’s eyes. A bit of clarity on the eyes can really draw your viewer into your subject’s gaze. But taken too far and then suddenly we are looking into a pair of alien eyes!
If you are guilty of this, don’t apologize. So many of us have been there before. My best advice is to edit your photo and then reduce the effect by 10%. Walk away from your computer screen and then come back. Do you like what you see? Then that’s probably a good place to land.
With a little awareness and a fine tuned eye you will have your sharpening skilled sharpened in no time.
In this photo by Heather Lazark, the skin has been smoothed so much that it seems as though there is no texture. Minimizing blemishes is good...turning to plastic is not!
In this portrait by Kellie Bieser, the skin has been smoothed as to minimize teenage blemishes but not so much that the skin looks unrealistic. Texture is still visible.
Much like sharpening, skin smoothing is one of those tricks that is so exciting that it is easy to find yourself getting carried away. One minute you think you are diminishing blemishes and the next you have made your subject look like a plastic doll!
With skin smoothing, a little goes a long way. When your grandma Mable’s face closely resembles a baby’s bottom, this may be your cue to back off a bit. Just like with sharpening, you should err on the side of too little smoothing rather than taking it too far.
In this earlier edit of the same photo, you can see that the over saturation causes the pink of the ball and on her shorts to be too hot and her skin looks strangely orange.
In this photo by Kellie Bieser, even the neon pink of the soccer ball remains in gamut because she was careful not to oversaturate the colors. Skin tones look realistic and this would print without issue.
Learning that we can adjust color intensity in post processing is a game changer. Who doesn’t want to pop color and enhance visual appeal to their image?!
But bad things happen when we take that too far. When colors are out of gamut they are beyond our working color space. We lose detail in that particular color. Losing detail in our image is no bueno. This means that they won’t render correctly on the screen or in print.
You can turn on warning signals in both Lightroom and Photoshop that will alert you when colors are out of gamut. Keep these on and pay attention to your histogram to be sure that you aren’t taking your saturation and vibrance too far.
Too much contrast
In this earlier edit of the same photo, the contrast creates clipped blacks and hot highlights and the skin looks muddy and orange.
In this newer edit of her daughter's ballet recital, you can see detail in all of the shadows and highlights and the skin tones look realistic given the tricky light situation.
Adding too much contrast to your image can result in the loss of detail. Highlights can blow out (meaning there is no longer detail in your whites) and shadows can clip (meaning there is no longer detail in your blacks).
Similarly to blowing color channels, excessive contrast can cause issues both on a screen and in print. Those spots of too-white and too-black can pull your viewer’s eye away from the important aspects of the frame. And the contrast in colors can leave things looking unrealistic and jarring.
While you should definitely aim to have a good range of tones in your photos (perhaps especially in a black and white edit), you want to be sure that you aren’t pushing the limits too far.
The heavy vignette in this sweet photo by Heather Lazark is so dark that it pulls the eye away from the connection happening in the scene.
We here at Clickin Moms think that Mother’s Day is one of the most important holidays on the calendar (I mean, we are Clickin Moms, right?!). But how do you show the moms in your life that you care? What gifts can truly speak to how amazing and wonderful the women you love are?
These five gifts are our idea of the perfect way to show the moms in your life that they are adored. And if you snag one or more of these for yourself, we promise we won’t tell…
Flowers are a classic gift for Mother’s Day, but these are special! These hand-designed, ethically farmed, burlap-wrapped bouquets are sure to make anyone smile. But we think they are especially photo worthy (who’s got a macro lens to play with?!) for that camera-wielding mom in your life.
Even better? $10 from this bouquet go to Every Mother Counts, an organization committed to making pregnancy and childbirth safer for mothers around the world. Helping moms while treating mom? It doesn’t get better than that!
Moms are often juggling a lot of schedules, making a central calendar key to keeping things going smoothly. We love these customizable dry erase calendars that allow her to stay organized while displaying her very favorite photos.
Pro tip: This one comes with a black dry erase pen, but add a pack of fancy multicolored pens so that each family member has her own color on the calendar. That’s superhero level organization!
Jewelry is another standard gift for mom, but these adorable little earrings are anything but standard. These little wooden camera studs are on hypoallergenic posts and will let mom look super cute while also showing off her love of photography. They are small and subtle statement makers that the photo-loving mom in your life (you?!) is sure to adore.
Being a mom is hard work and on Mother’s Day, mom deserves a little pampering. In fact, we think that mom deserves a little pampering every day. That’s where this gift set comes in!
This rose quartz roller is so pretty and feels amazing as it massages your skin. Paired with Little Seed Farm’s elasticity serum, it is sure to leave your skin glowing and have you feeling refreshed and ready to be in the photo with the kids (which we think is the best Mother’s Day gift of all!).
For any mom who wants to take better pictures of her kids (which is every mom, right?!) we think that a Clickin Moms membership is the best gift out there. Membership gives you access to thousands of exclusive tutorials, monthly gifts, photo critiques, pro Q&A, and a community of the most talented and supportive photographers in the industry.
Clickin Moms is the best place grow in your photography and when you gift a membership, you are gifting a lifetime of learning and friendship founded on the common bond of capturing the memories that matter most.
We here at Clickin Moms think that mothers are the best and we hope that this Mother’s Day, you make sure that the moms in your life know it.
When I first decided to get serious about photography, moving beyond being a hobbyist, I knew that it was time to start building a portfolio. Thanks to my decision to shoot a 365 project (shooting every day for 365 days) I had lots of images to choose from.
However, I wasn’t sure which ones were portfolio-worthy and which were just my personal favorites. Because if you are like me, ANY photo of my kids is going to be the best photo ever.
It was here that I knew I needed another set of eyes to look at my work critically. If I was serious about improving and moving forward with my art, I knew I had to bite the bullet and put myself out there, ready to accept whatever feedback may come.
Was I nervous? Sure! But I’ve grown so much more as an artist since I started having other people look at my work. Serious critique combined with daily photographing are a magical combination.
Today I am sharing a few tips that I learned from my experience with you. With these tips, you can take your photography to the next level.
Straighten up! (check your horizons)
One of the easiest mistakes to make in photography is a crooked horizon. I try very hard to shoot straight but most of the time, I have to do a bit of straightening to my image in post processing.
Just because this is an easy fix in any editing software doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to get it right in camera. Look throughout your frame while you are shooting and be aware of your horizon lines. You want the horizon to be parallel to the edges of the frame.
If you shoot too close and crooked, you may have to cut a crucial part of your image in order to straighten it. And no one wants to have to cut off anyone’s precious toes!
Which leads to my next tip…
Good crop, bad crop (avoid limb chops)
One of the easiest ways to spot an inexperienced photographer is “limb chops”. Hands or fingers are MIA. Feet are missing below the knees. The tops of the head are awkwardly cut out of the frame.
As you become more intentional behind the camera, you become more careful with how you compose the frame and how your subject is represented within the photo. Limb chops are a sign that the photographer is not carefully considering her subject within the frame. Don’t worry! This is something of which every beginner photographer (and some pros!) has been guilty!
The big reason to avoid limb chops is that they can make the viewer feel uneasy. Luckily, the fix is super easy. Just take a step back, look at your scene, and be more mindful when shooting.
People move. It’s inevitable. But with a little awareness, those precious limbs can be saved!
Don’t blow It! (highlights, that is)
This is part of understanding proper exposure. But so many people truly don’t see what blown highlights are until they are pointed out!
When your image is too over exposed, you can “blow” your highlights. This simply means that you lose details in the brightest parts of your image. No matter how much you try in post processing, these cannot be restored.
To prevent this, I suggest using your camera’s “blink mode.” This mode will display where in your image you have overexposed areas on the screen of your camera.
Also, pay attention to your histogram. This graph illustrates the range of highlights, shadows, and midtones you have in an image.
After some practice you’ll get used to proper exposure and you can turn the blinking feature off (since it’s kind of annoying anyway). So pay careful attention to your cameras meter (which measures proper exposure) and you’ll avoid this issue!
Have you had work done? (avoid over processing)
Lightroom and Photoshop are amazing tools and so fun to play with. But if we’re not careful, we can get lost in the world of post processing and forget what is real.
Subjects with plastic looking skin, eyes that glow like the sun, and teeth that are blindingly white are all signs of too much post processing. A more subtle mistake I see over and over again (mostly because I used to do it myself) is accidentally creating a “halo” around a subject.
Both LR and PS have an option to lighten your subject with adjustment brushes (which is great for making them the point of focus and separating them from the background). However, this tool can easily be overused. If you are too sloppy and “colors outside the lines,” and your subject will end up with a glowing halo around her. And this is a telltale sign that some less-than-magical Photoshop magic is at work.
In order to avoid this mistake, take the “less is more” approach. Resist the urge to throw all the editing tricks at one photo. Don’t be heavy handed with any one tool. Take advantage of tools that allow you to undo your mistakes (like layer masks in Photoshop or the eraser tool in Lightroom).
My biggest piece of advice for post processing is that when you think you’re done, step away from the computer for a while. Let your eyes rest and take in something new. Then, come back to it later to decide if you’re truly done. A change in scenery and fresh eyes can make a world of difference!
Don’t be too cool (pay attention to white balance)
You may have heard it mentioned that an image is “too cool or too warm”. These are terms related to white balance. White balance is how your camera sees the color of the light.
Our eyes and our brains can compensate for different light situations, that is why it always seems white to us, but our cameras need some help. You can set your camera to Auto White balance and then adjust it in post processing. Or you can set it right in your camera depending on the lighting situation.
Either way, pay attention to the color of the light. If you’re in the shadows your subject could appear bluish. If you’re indoors, your subject could look yellow or magenta.
To check your white balance in LR you can use the white balance eye dropper tool, click on a white or a grey part of your image and, in most cases, it will help guide you to a more correct white balance.
Learning photography is a journey, not a destination. So even if you are making some of these mistakes (or all of them!) be kind to yourself. Chances are, all of your photography heroes have made all of these same mistakes at one point and it took them time to figure it all out, too.
As with most worthwhile pursuits, mastering this craft takes practice and patience. So get out there, have fun, ask for feedback and click, click, click!
Have you been looking for a way to push yourself creatively and improve your photography skills? The key to doing just that might very well be in your hand at this very moment. Yes, I’m talking about your cell phone!
You may just use your phone camera for simple snapshots. But your phone is capable of so much more! With some intention and a few helpful tips shared below, you can take photos with your cell phone to rival your DSLR images.
Use an app that gives you more control while shooting
It may feel limiting going from your DSLR to your mobile phone for photography, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Sure, your big camera has a thousand knobs and dials to control every aspect of your photo. But did you know that there are apps that will allow you to have more control over the images you take with your phone’s camera too?
Look for an app that allows you to easily change your settings. An application that lets you have full control over exposure, white balance/color temperature, ISO, shutter speed, and focal point will allow you to get more intentional results in any shooting situation. By having the option to control these factors, you’ll begin to feel more creative with the images you’re producing from your mobile phone.
Also, just like shooting in RAW is recommended in order to have the most latitude in photo editing, the same is true for your mobile photography. Utilize an app that allows you to shoot with your phone in RAW format so you have more control during the editing process.
These are some favorites that allow you to have more control over the final image than your phone’s built-in camera:
The more you understand the app you’re using to take your photos, the better your images are bound to turn out. It’s important to take the time out to really learn how to maximize your available apps just as you would learn to better operate your DSLR.
Consider photographic elements
It’s easy to feel like taking a photo with your mobile phone is nothing more than a quick snapshot. You pick up your phone, snap the photo without much thought, then toss your phone back into your purse and continue about your day.
When you’re shooting with your DSLR, however, I’m willing to bet that you take the time out to really plan. You evaluate your surroundings before you begin shooting. You observe the light and contemplate how you want to use it. Then you start looking for the perfect composition, the ideal color combinations, and other photographic elements that you can incorporate.
Well, guess what? It should be no different when you’re shooting with your mobile phone. Before you start snapping away, you should still be taking all of these factors into consideration.
A photo taken with any camera will be elevated with good light. Using compositional techniques to guide you viewer to your subject will make any photo more impactful. Perspective, color theory, and texture will all add to the value of your photos. The camera does not dictate any of these variables…you do!
Avoid falling into the trap of always grabbing those quick and mindless snapshots with your phone. Instead, slow down and take a moment to really think through the photo you want to create before you press the shutter button.
Treat your phone’s camera like a DSLR with a prime lens
The best thing about prime lenses is how they push you to be creative. Unlike a zoom lens, with a prime lens you have to move your feet and switch up your POV while you’re shooting in order to avoid all of your images looking the same.
When shooting with your mobile phone, keep this same frame of mind. Make sure to remember to move around and utilize different angles while you’re shooting to add variety to your photos.
When you’re shooting don’t be afraid to get closer to your subject for a macro-like shot. Look around you and take note of all of the opportunities to capture things both above and below you. Take a few steps back so you can capture the wider shots that include the environment. Crouch down for the closer shots that create intimacy with your viewer.
Step outside of your box and really push yourself to realize all that you can do with your phone by simply changing your position. Instead of thinking of your phone camera’s single focal length as a limitation, look at it as an opportunity to shoot differently.
Take the time to edit your photos
If you feel like your photos taken with your mobile phone are lacking a bit of polish, you may just need to spend more time with your editing process.
Having more control over your camera and shooting with more intention are both necessary steps in the process to take a quality photo. However, editing your photo after you’ve taken it can really elevate your mobile photography.
When you’re editing your photos from your DSLR, you often enhance the basic factors such as the brightness, contrast, and saturation. You may also focus on more in-depth editing such as color toning and using the healing tool to remove distractions in the frame.
Go beyond simply adding a filter to your photo and get more in depth with your editing to really enhance your mobile phone photos. Some of my favorite apps to edit photos are:
VSCO: They have awesome presets that you can then edit for a more natural and custom look. Snapseed: I love this app for in-depth editing, especially it’s Healing and Portraiture tools. Lightroom Mobile: this app allows you to upload your presets so you can keep cohesiveness between your mobile phone photos and your DSLR photos if you desire.
If you want to improve your mobile photograph skills, you need to take more control, slow down and take your time, and shoot with intention. With practice, you might be surprised at what type of art you can create with this tool you carry around every day.
I tend to process my images in color more than black and white. I love rich tones and color often lends emotion and depth to a photo.
However, there are compelling reasons to choose black and white over color. Let’s explore the top 10 reasons for converting your images to black and white.
There is a timelessness with black and white photos that color photos just cannot replicate. A black and white conversion can make our images look like they could be taken at anytime in history.
This image was taken back in 2013 and remains one of my favorites. It reminds me of The Little Rascals (which likely dates my age quite a bit…ha!). The black and white conversion here makes it so that the colors of the play set and the kids’ clothes do not date the photo.
Instead, they look as though they could be kids from today or decades ago. This timelessness adds to the universality of the scene making the image that much more impactful.
Color can most certainly speak to emotion. However, taking away color can allow other emotional elements (such as facial expression, body language, etc.) to really shine.
By stripping away all the color information, you can hone in on the story of the image. We feel the emotion the artist is trying to project, rather than just viewing it.
In this shot of my daughter, I am immediately drawn in by her obvious joy on her birthday. While I like the color version, I find I get distracted by the pretty colors. Her joy isn’t the first thing I notice. As the emotion is the most important aspect of the frame for me, a black and white edit is an easy choice to make here.
In this photo, I really wanted to capture what it felt like to pull out your tooth. It’s something we can all relate to, but it’s easily forgotten once childhood fades.
Again, while the colors were fine, I felt that they distracted from the furrow of her brows and the pained anticipation of pulling the tooth out. By converting this to black and white, those details are at the forefront of the frame.
Black and white is perfect for showing connections between people, objects, and pets. It again allows us to better imagine how the subjects might feel rather than just looking at a pretty colors. No matter if it is a little child holding her lovey, siblings bonding, a newly engaged couple looking deep into each other’s eyes, or the married couple of 50 years sharing a laugh together, black and white is a sure way to draw the viewer into the connection.
image by Vironica Golden
I love how photographer Vironica Golden captures her boys and their connections. In this photo, those connections are amplified by her conversion to black and white. Without the potential distraction of color, the viewer can immediately see the love and playfulness they share.
Often times I choose to convert to black and white solely because the colors in the image are kind of distracting. Colorful background elements may distract from the intended subject. And while my kids think that neon clothes are awesome, they are not quite so in photos (and those neon color casts! Ugh!).
In this example I wanted to guide the viewer to the bubble blowing contest by eliminating all the crazy colored play clothes they were wearing. With a black and white conversion, the potential for someone to look at the rainbow of clothing first is eliminated. Instead, the viewer goes straight to their faces where they can see the intensity of the bubble contest unfolding.
While images in beautiful light are gorgeous in color, they can be particularly amazing in black and white. Often times I convert to black and white to really showcase the light and how it falls on my subjects.
A black and white edit here makes it so that the light and shadows are center stage. While the iridescent colors of the bubbles are beautiful in their own right, I wanted to emphasize their shapes and the dimension of my subject’s features.
Black and white can really emphasize details like freckles, sand, dirt, water, and any other type of texture. It allows the contrast in to shine in a way that just doesn’t happen when editing in color. I often convert to black and white if I want to really show off my daughter’s freckles.
Sometimes converting to black and white can make an otherwise boring photo very dramatic. We often associate colors with emotion. However, if the color is in conflict with the drama of a scene, I find converting to black and white quite helpful.
I love to do this when I have a lot of negative space, so that my subject really stands out in the frame. In this underwater image, the blue of the pool made everything feel just a bit too light and airy. By converting to black and white, it is as though she is diving into an unknown abyss, adding drama to the scene.
Cover-up bad color
This may not be the BEST reason for converting to black and white. But if I’m being honest I do convert when I just don’t want to deal with fixing mixed lighting or bad color casts. That said, the image still has to have a good range of tone to be a good candidate for a black and white edit. It’s not going to work in every situation, but it really can save a lot of time editing if you like the image in black and white.
I believe we are all storytellers. But as we are mastering our craft, we can find ourselves so absorbed by the new concept or technique we are trying to learn that we often end up neglecting the story.
The purpose of a photograph is to say something. Sure, we have to learn the technical aspects of light, the exposure triangle, composition, and so much more. But all of those skills are learned so that we can better communicate with our audiences.
Storytelling is always happening in photographs. Both beginners and seasoned photographers are conveying narratives through their images but with different levels of intention, complexity and ease.
As we begin to understand our visual voice, it’s much like learning a new language. We first learn to make simple and concrete sentences. Eventually we are able to express more complex and abstract thoughts.
Today I am sharing 5 steps you can take right now to help you elevate your storytelling game. Wherever you are in your photography journey, you can use these tools to better communicate with your audience.
Find your story
Most of the time, we see a moment, snap a photo or two, and then put the camera down. Then later, we look at our photos and find that they are just okay. Which is a bummer because there was a story in that moment and we wanted to capture it!
So next time you see a moment that makes you reach for your camera, take a second to identify the story. What emotions do you want to express in your photograph? What characters, plotlines, and actions are guiding the moment? Spend the time to identify what about the scene draws you in and work to photograph that.
Take some time to plan. Think about the story you want to tell with your image. Ask yourself questions to create a detailed plan to help you find your story.
Who is your audience? Who are the characters in your story? What is the best location, environment, or backdrop for your story? What time of day or year will best illustrate your story? Do you want to photograph the plot (main story) or is your story more about a struggle or a happy ending? What is the title of your image? What is the intended mood? Can you identify details that you should include so that a stranger can understand your story?
In this image, I was shooting a family session with my partner. Typically when we shoot together, we alternate from primary to secondary shooter throughout the session. In this instance, while he was capturing the family playing together with this orange ball. I was on the sidelines capturing different perspectives.
All of a sudden, all I could see were this little boy’s legs. A title instantly popped into my head: “friendless”. I quickly positioned myself to emphasize the loneliness (lot of greens and negative space) and waited for the ball to come close to his feet. Click!
In this moment, I saw that *my* story was going to be different from that of my partner’s. It was this little moment alone on the ledge. Once I found my story, I was able to get my photo.
Choose your angle
Now that you know the story you want to shoot, it’s time to pick the right angle. Your position in relation to your subject is key in creating a strong image. You need to decide which angle will best tell your story.
Who will tell the story? Will it be a removed narrator, an active participant, or the subject himself? What is the best point of view to illustrate this point of view? From above? From below? At eye level? From behind?
As decisive moments don’t last forever, I recommend first taking a safe shot and then changing your point of view until you find the optimal angle. A less-than-ideal photo of a magical memory is always better than no photo at all!
In this image, I began by shooting from the side so my subjects would be facing my camera. It was my safe (and kind of boring) shot.
Once I had the moment captured, I started to move around. First I moved behind my son (the boy in the back of the final frame) but didn’t like that the girl was hidden in the picture. I moved again and ended up behind dad and daughter (and hoped for the best for my lens!).
I liked the fact that this point of view gave the viewer the feeling of being right in the action. Even better, I was able to capture this extra layer of splash to add depth while also including the antagonist (my son) in the frame. From this perspective, I am able to construct a more complete story.
This is an image of my son writing his letter to Santa. (It’s in French…he wasn’t writing to Cher!). While he was writing, I tried different things but found that the story I was striving toward was incomplete. I tried creating a double exposure. I tried capturing this as a dramatic low light image.
Then I finally realized I was getting far from my initial intention. Him simply writing a letter was the story and that was what I wanted to capture.
Again, an idea popped into my head: the letter to Santa would be a pretext to document his six-year-old handwriting. I chose the “participant” angle and the “from above” perspective and captured an image I really like!
Structure your story
If you were writing a 1000 word essay, you would structure your ideas according to their relevance and importance to effectively communicate your story. Even the best story fails if the ideas within it are not structured properly.
In photography, we structure our images using composition techniques. You can utilize leading lines, framing elements, and implied triangles to guide your viewer through the frame.. This will take your audience on a visual path where the elements of the story are organized in such a way that the story makes sense.
This image is an example of implied triangles. Do you see them? Our eyes naturally connect the points of interest to form a natural shape. Here, the mother’s gaze acts as an indirect line which leads us to her first born who is looking outside of the frame. This can weaken an image as it throws our eyes out of the frame. However in this case, with the help of the triangle our eyes stay in the frame. There are many other triangles in this image: Mother’s arm, mother’s face, son. Mother’s face, son, newborn. Mother’s arm, bottle of milk, newborn. Can you find more?
The image here is an example of using leading lines (the path), centering with intention (subjects are at the vanishing point) and including a framing element (the arch of the aquarium). I also used a lot of negative space around them to echo the quietness of the family and the silence of the underwater world.
You should also learn to avoid certain things that can weaken your message. Ineffective composition, unintentionally chopping limbs, or failing to isolate your subject from the background can all work against your story.
Add depth to your story
I am not talking about just physical depth here. Though of course you should seek out opportunities for adding dimensionality to the frame. Rather, I am talking about looking for opportunities to add emotional depth to your imagery.
Compositional elements are truly helpful in reinforcing depth in your narrative. You can use juxtaposition to accentuate differences between contrasting elements in your frame. Use a reflection to emphasize the importance of a character or to show something the viewer otherwise couldn’t see. Explore how negative space helps you create mood.